A couple of weeks earlier
Spike shook the dust off his coat and huffed out some air in frustration. It had been nothing but two fledglings tonight and he felt like he needed way more violence to get distracted from his own thoughts.
“Well, that does sound better than getting stupidly drunk all by yourself.”
He didn’t turn to look at Betta George, rolling his eyes in exasperation.
“Wasn’t by myself the whole time, by my reckoning.”
Spike hoped that if he ignored him enough, George would end up leaving him alone at least tonight; he took out a cigarette and lit it, inhaling deeply.
“So, you book a flight yet?”
Spike rolled his eyes again.
“No, I didn’t sodding book a flight.”
“What are you waiting for, then?” George floated in front of him and seemed to stare at him reproachfully; or maybe just looked at him mildly, was hard to tell with his fishy eyes. “Come on, Spike. You owe it to her to at least call her, if you don’t want to see her.”
Spike squinted at him and kept smoking, trying very hard not to punch his friend right through said fishy eyes.
“When will you get it through your head that this isn’t your bloody business?”
“And when will you get it through your head that I’m just trying to ‘bloody’ help you out?”
Spike snorted and started walking, quickly moving towards the nearest pub. Christ, he needed a drink.
“No, what you need is to get your head out of your fine posterior and start making some sense!”
“And what you need is to get the bloody hell out of my head, fish!”
“We’ve been through this, telepathic fish, yadda yadda. Now can you please tell me what you’re waiting for, here?”
Spike just snorted again, flicking away the cigarette butt, and started walking more quickly.
“Fine. Be that way. Let’s get ‘bloody pissed’ and forget about the ‘bloody bint’.”
Spike might have sniffed at George’s pathetic attempt at a British accent, but no one would have blamed him for that, really.
In a few, silent minutes, they found themselves at another demon bar and this time Betta George ordered something for himself; Spike didn’t really want to know what that was, though, the smell wasn’t at all promising. He looked around at the rest of the bar and sighed at the sorry sight: just a couple of demons in one corner and one sorry-looking sod tinkering with a jukebox. He shook his head and took another sip of his whiskey, trying very hard not to look at his table mate. George was just floating in front of him, pretty busy enjoying his weird drink, and for once he didn’t seem all too eager to fill his head with his pestering thoughts.
“I heard that.”
Spike snorted and at that moment the jukebox started playing; without anything else to do, he let himself listen to the old-fashioned lyrics.
If you ever change your mind
About leaving, leaving me behind
Oh, oh, bring it to me
Bring your sweet loving
Bring it on home to me
I know I laughed when you left
But now I know I only hurt myself
Oh, oh, bring it to me
Bring your sweet loving
Bring it on home to me
Spike shook his head, incredibly aware of his friend’s gaze on him. He ignored him resolutely, fixing his gaze on a spot on the counter behind the fish and drinking more of his whisky.
You know I’ll always be your slave
’Till I’m buried, buried in my grave
Oh, honey, bring it to me
Bring your sweet loving
Bring it on home to me
Spike frowned, his hand gripping the glass a bit tighter, his jaw locking.
One more thing,
I tried to treat you right
But you stayed out, stayed out at night
But I forgive you, bring it to me
Bring your sweet loving
Bring it on home to me
Spike realised he was gripping the glass a tad too tightly and pried his fingers off it, hoping to avoid glass shards in his skin. Although he wouldn’t have been opposed to punching the tosser that was still at the jukebox and was apparently intent on torturing him, since he chose the same song to play again. After the first few lines, he just let out a huff of exasperated air and moved his gaze to the fish, who hadn’t quit staring at him.
“I think you know what.”
“Yeah, exactly. ‘Bugger off’… to Scotland.” Spike snorted and shook his head, his gaze moving to the side again. “Oh, come on! If that’s not a clear sign of fate that you have to get back to her, I don’t know what is.”
“Will you knock it off? Weren’t you just telling me to ‘be my own man’ or some such shit the other night?”
“Well, yeah. Sure, if that’s what you want.” He paused and Spike looked down at his empty glass. “It’s just that I feel like you still want to be with her, so maybe you should do something about that. And by ‘feel like’, I mean ‘know’, since I’m in your head and all.”
“I don’t know what to tell you, mate,” he said, shaking his head. Part of him realised he was being well and truly pathetic; the rest of him couldn’t give a toss about it. “Just tired of being someone’s lapdog, is all.”
“OK. That makes sense. And you make a fairly decent alpha dog, when you put your mind to it.” Spike stared at him, unimpressed. “Just saying! I don’t think you’re anyone’s lapdog.”
“Sure I’m not. Just a sodding, pathetic slave, then.” He scoffed and stood then, shaking his head and going to the counter to take another whiskey.
“You know what… I think you should break up with her.” Spike sent him a glance from the bar counter, with no need to speak the words blaring through his mind: what the fuck? “I know, I get it, you two weren’t technically together. And maybe her last words were only nice words for a dying hero. But… if you don’t talk to her, it’ll be very hard to move on.”
Spike felt a horrible clench in his chest at those words. Moving on. Had he ever really wanted that?
He gathered his new drink and sat heavily back down at the table, slouching in his chair. His fingers traced the rim of the glass while he tried to get some sort of order in his thoughts. It took him a few minutes, and when he talked his words were slow, and quiet.
“She last saw me as a hero, you know.” He didn’t dare look up at George’s eyes, afraid he’d be able to discern some sort of pity in those vast, violet pools. Unlikely, but you never know. “I died to save the world, a true champion of the people. And now…” he sighed deeply. “Now I’m just a guy that feels lost because the lady of his dreams is too far away from him. Hell,” he scoffed, “that’s pathetic even to my ears. Even sodding Angel has got more cause to live than me.”
“So… try and win her back?”
“Back?” He scoffed. “Can’t win back someone you’ve never had.”
“OK, then win her over. Don’t hide behind words with me, mister.”
“And if she says no? Then what?” Spike swallowed and looked up at George; some of his despair must have showed, because he could indeed see some pity in the fish’s eyes. “Do I lose my one reason to exist?”
“Spike… I think that’s the problem. You talk about her, you think about her as a, a… some sort of goddess, like she can save you.” His voice became gentler in his head. “But she can’t. She’s just a young woman, just a person.”
“Just a person, my ass!” he protested, but even he could hear the lack of conviction in his voice.
“You know what I mean. Not exactly a goddess.”
Spike didn’t have an answer to that. George was right, of course, in principle. But as for his actual life? He’d only ever known how to live worshipping someone — or at least taking them as a model and pretending not to, in the case of Peaches. How do you decide to suddenly become someone else?
“You know, it’d be much easier if she just fell for me and we could live together happily ever after.” George made some sound that could pass for a snort at that and Spike half-smiled. “The vampire and the slayer. Bloody perfect couple.”
“Yeah. Especially when you idolise her, let her treat you however she pleases because she can do no wrong with her being your goddess and all, and then get crushed at the first big mistake she makes.” Spike stared at him and felt his jaw tensing. “I’m right and you know it. That can’t work out, Spike, if you keep this attitude.”
“So, what do you suppose I should do? Go to her and yell at her until I’m thoroughly convinced she’s ‘just a person’?”
“You should get your head out of your ass, talk to her like she’s a person , and stop acting like she should only know you as anything else but just a vamp.” Spike kept staring at him in silence for a few seconds and George added, “you know, ‘just a vamp’ as in a vampire with a soul, a good guy, but not a perfect champion.”
Spike leaned his elbow on the table, holding his chin on his hand, and sighed a very dejected sigh.
“Sounds about right.”
He knew his voice sounded anything but convinced, but he couldn’t do much about it, since he wasn’t convinced at all. Betta George could explain away anything he wanted; it didn’t change the fact that if he did decide to go see her, he’d just fall head over heels all over again and make a complete prat of himself all the while.
That sounded about right indeed.
Spike cleared his throat, suddenly feeling like the worst of the night was right behind the castle’s massive doors, waiting for him. The more he approached them, the more he wanted to turn tails and just get the hell away.
“You sure this is a good idea, Buffy?” He had only a fraction of a pause before saying her name and felt like congratulating himself. Apparently she’d taken to heart the fact that he hadn’t called her by her name, so he was going to do his best to avoid making the same mistake. Of course, there was no need to tell her that her name still felt like a blessing and a curse on his tongue.
“Dawn’s not going to kill you, Spike, stop fretting.”
He scoffed and declined to tell her just how very not sure of that he was. But maybe she was right; if Buffy could get over the need to pummel him, his Nibblet might manage the same as well.
My Nibblet. Right. As if she’s letting me call her that anytime soon.
By that time, Buffy had reached the huge castle doors, going to open a smaller door carved into them to the right. He found himself nervously slicking his hair back, cursed softly at himself for being a complete prat and pushed his hands in his coat pockets after balancing his bag over his shoulder.
“Again, home sweet home!” exclaimed Buffy, her false cheer almost convincing while she opened the door to him and led the way inside. He took a deep breath, cursed at himself some more and just stepped forward through the door.
The moment felt anticlimactic, as they found themselves into an empty corridor, too dark to see much of anything. He followed Buffy to a huge courtyard and then to another door, up some steps, a hallway that led to another door… he just had the time to wonder whether the Slayer was trying to confuse him, when he found himself in a kitchen of sorts — if kitchens were huge and had five-metres-high ceilings, several ovens and sinks, and dozens of long benches.
He was still looking around the large room, when a very Scottish and very aggressive voice made him realise that one of the benches wasn’t empty.
“Hello, ma’am. Wan’ to introduce us?”
There were three girls at the bench, one of them standing, looking at him with a healthy dose of weariness, distrust and possibly disgust. He couldn’t decide whether he liked the redheaded slayer more for recognising him right away as a vampire or for calling Buffy ‘ma’am’.
“I told you, stop calling me ma’am,” Buffy said, sounding like it was the hundredth time she said it. “And this is Spike. He’s with me.”
“‘With you’... ma’am?”
This time it was the turn of the blue-haired Asian girl, one of the two sitting down, her brows raised while looking between Spike and Buffy. He almost felt the need to shuffle under her intense gaze, so he smiled his most charming smile instead.
“With me, as in, no staking.”
The third girl actually gasped at that and Spike saw the redheaded Scott give a slight eye roll at that.
“Nice to meet you too, ladies,” he said, not letting his smile falter.
The Scott and the Asian girl stared at him, sending a frisson of danger slithering down his spine, delicious in its lightness. Before he could try to tease them into a bit more of those slayer nerves, though, he heard a gasp coming from somewhere off to the right and turned towards some stairs there — where Dawn was, looking at him like she’d just seen a ghost.
Well, I suppose…
There was a long moment of silence when all they could do was stare at each other and Spike felt sure he was very close to sweating from nerves. He was acutely aware that Buffy and the other slayers were staring at him, but he stayed still, unable to stop looking at his Nibblet, all growed up.
“Spike?” Her voice was low and incredulous. “Buffy, is he..?”
“Yes,” came her voice from behind him, and he distractedly noticed a tense note in it. “It’s really him, Dawn.”
“Hello, little bit. You keep growing like that, you’ll make a fellow feel short.” He tried for a nonchalant tone, probably landing just short of desperate instead. He resolutely ignored the snort coming from one of the sitting slayers.
“Are you here here, or are you some sort of astral projection?”
Dawn’s voice held a bit of a tense note too and Spike swallowed nervously while she stepped down the stairs and walked to him, hesitant.
“Been there, done that… didn’t like the whole ghostie thing.” She was right in front of him now and he had to resist the urge to reach out to her. “’M all solid now, pet.”
Dawn looked at him some more, then she moved to touch his arm. He stopped breathing, not really wanting to gasp in front of the little slayers; then she was hugging him, holding him tight, and he suddenly realised how fiercely he’d missed her, too.
“Spike, you’re really back,” she murmured into his shoulder, as he forced himself out of his stupor to hold her back with his free arm. “I can’t believe this, how…”
“’S a long story, pet,” he mumbled in her hair. “And I’ll tell you all the details,” he hastened to add when she moved back enough to glare at him.
He could feel his dead heart doing strange things in his chest at the way she still held him, when a few murmurs from the bench interrupted their moment.
“ The Spike?”
“Thought ’e was dead. Deader, a’ least.”
“Thought he’d be taller…”
“Well, apparently he’s a hard vamp to kill. I should know,” he heard Buffy comment, and was that a smile in her voice?
Dawn moved back, somehow making him unaccountably happy that she kept a hand on his arm.
“Wait, how did this… Buffy, why aren’t you freaking?” She sent a withering look to her older sister, who started fidgeting with her jacket zipper. “Did you… you knew about this, didn’t you?”
Buffy fidgeted some more, Spike feeling like an even bigger piece of crap.
“Not her fault, pet. She knew I didn’t want to… well… she just wanted to respect my wishes.”
Dawn squeezed his arm for a moment, before letting it go and moving a step back from him and Buffy.
“Well, that’s just typical.” Spike chanced a glance at Buffy, whose mouth was set in a tense line. “Never tell anything to the little sister, she might believe for a second that she’s being treated like an adult.”
“No, don’t worry, I get it. God forbid I get to be treated like I can be trusted with important information.”
“Dawn, this had nothing to do with you.” Spike could see from Dawn’s look that that was the wrong thing to say, but it didn’t seem to deter Buffy. “I just wanted to respect Spike’s privacy, it’s not like I contacted him either.”
“Oh, of course you just wanted to respect his privacy,” she replied through gritted teeth, “because respecting his privacy is way more important than sharing any kind of information with stupid little sis, isn’t it?”
“That’s not —”
“And you!” She exclaimed, turning her furious gaze to him. “How dare you not say anything? How long have you been back?” Her voice was getting shriller by the second and Spike couldn't help a wince.
“No, don’t you ‘Nibblet’ me! How. Long. Have. You. Been. Back.” She asked, jabbing his chest at every word.
Spike briefly considered not answering her, or at least begging her to move this lovely tête-à-tête to somewhere more private — then remembered that it was his stupid wish for ‘privacy’ that brought them here in the first place, so he sucked it up and stopped trying to avoid her fierce gaze. Bloody Summers women.
“It was nineteen days after Sunnydale, all right?” She just stared at him, dumbfounded, and he could feel Buffy’s eyes boring holes into his head too. “Was all ghostie for the first two months or so, but yeah… nineteen days after Sunnydale.”
Dawn took another step back and he felt like his chest suddenly turned to lead. So much for waiting till Buffy had rested a bit…
“I can’t believe this,” murmured Dawn, looking at him like she didn’t know him. “I mourned you, Spike.” He winced and finally looked down. “ We mourned you… or I guess maybe she just pretended to, since she already knew and all.” He could almost feel Buffy ready to say something to that, but Dawn went on, her voice cold. “What, did you two actually secretly keep in contact, all this time? Is that why you’re back, so you can get back to sleeping together behind our backs?”
Spike reeled back at that, looking up at her in disbelief. Was that what she thought of him, then? Her expression showed something akin to regret for a second but then went back to fury, once again making Spike feel like he really shouldn’t have come here.
“That’s enough.” Buffy’s voice was low and tight and he didn’t need to turn to know that she was furious. “Go to bed, Dawn, it’s almost three in the morning and you need to study.”
“Oh, right, you don’t like something I say so you just avoid —”
“ Go to bed ,” repeated Buffy, and Spike didn’t dare turn to her at her tone. “Now.”
Dawn’s expression was unsure for a second and he’d bet she was really regretting her words; but then she just turned and raced up the stairs, and in a couple of seconds he could hear a door shut with a bang.
The huge kitchen was silent for a few seconds, the tension thick, and Spike felt like he’d rather find a nice, cozy hole in the earth than spend one more minute in that castle.
“Sl— Buffy, I don’t think… maybe I should —”
“Mention leaving one more time and I will tie you to a chair, Spike.” Her voice was hard, her eyes harder, and he swallowed and just nodded once, not ready to dust quite yet. “Girls, I need to sleep. Can someone show Spike one of the free rooms?” He looked at her but she was keeping her gaze down, her voice measured and tense and Christ, he was a monster for making her go through all this.
“Consider it done,” he heard one of the girls say and then Buffy looked up at him for a second.
“Won’t leave, Buffy.” He tried to keep his voice level, somehow managing it.
She averted her gaze again and just nodded; after one more second of silence, she quickly climbed the stairs, leaving them in yet more tense silence. He looked after her for a few more seconds, before fixing his gaze on the three girls who were staring at him with varied degrees of curiosity and distrust.
“Don’t think there’s any need to mention that you better not start gossiping about any of this.” This time, he didn’t make much of an effort to keep his voice level. The Scott and the Asian girls only narrowed their eyes, but the third girl actually blushed, so he thought maybe there had been a need after all.
“How sweet of you. Now that that necessary threat’s done, come along.” The blue-haired girl finally rose, moving towards the stairs pausing on the second step to look back at him. “What, you need a written invitation too now, vampire?”
Spike stopped glaring at the blushing slayer then and moved towards the other one.
“Yeah, yeah, coming… name’s Spike, by the way.”
She just raised her eyebrows and then they were climbing the stairs and moving through hallways lined with wooden doors.
“What about you, don’t have a name?” He asked, while noticing just how much wood was around the place — which, paired with the constant nagging of slayer itch surrounding him, wasn’t all that reassuring.
He stopped looking around to glance at her, but she seemed intent on ignoring him.
“Lovely to meet you, Satsu.”
Again, she didn’t respond, just leading him on yet another corridor — and were those actual fire torches lining the walls?
“Say, lovely place you got going here. The slayers, the wood, the fire… you got big windows too I should know about, Satsu?” He could almost see her eye twitch at his use of her name and he smirked in satisfaction. She still refused to answer, but maybe he could rile her up some other way, make at least something feel satisfying about the night.
She finally stopped in front of a door and he barely had the time to think that he probably wouldn’t find his way back too easily, before she started to leave again.
“Wait a second, Satsu!” She closed her eyes briefly before turning to him. “Don’t I get some towels, directions to the nearest shower, nothing? What kind of host are you?”
He saw her hand twitch out of the corner of his eye and his smirk widened. Petty satisfaction over petty nonsense, yes, but still better than the hollow he felt in his chest.
“Towels are in the closet, common bathroom’s the last door on the left of the hallway.” Her tone was crisp, her eyes flat. “I wouldn’t use it first thing in the morning if I were you — not everyone has seen that you know Miss Buffy yet and your kind isn’t exactly welcome around here.”
“Why, thank you, Satsu. So very thoughtful of you. Know where I’ll find her, tomorrow morning?”
She narrowed her eyes slightly.
“Probably in the castle courtyard, training, considering just how relaxing your return seems to be for her.”
Spike’s smirk faded quite a bit, at that.
Satsu just stared him down for a couple of seconds, then left without another word, her steps light on the stone floor. He took a few more moments to compose himself, then he got in the room.
It was small, hardly had the space for a closet, and the bed looked like it had seen much better days. The window had shutters, but no drapes.
He sighed, immediately getting to try and use the blanket from the bed to cover the window completely, hoping to avoid waking up from sun rays sizzling his skin from any little hole. He did his best to concentrate on that, instead of the gnawing feeling in his gut that he was doing nothing but bringing more stress to the one woman in the world that needed it the least.